Monday, April 30, 2007

Not Quite Sure What To Make Of This Week's Heroes

Obviously, "Five Years Gone" was a very exciting and surprising episode. Set five years in the future, it provided some possible futures for many of the characters, like Peter and Nikki hooking up, and Mohinder working for a morally corrupt President Nathan Petrelli, who isn't actually who he appears to be, and more. Most of what was shown was very cool.

But for the second week in a row, a significant part of the plot seemed to be lifted from an unrelated comic book! Last week it was Watchmen; this week they appeared to be borrowing quite heavily from the "Days of Future Past" storyline in X-Men # 141 & 142, from 1981. If that rings a bell, it may because I mentioned it way back when, after Hiro referred to it in an early episode, incorrectly attributing it to X-Men # 143. Was that foreshadowing on the writing staff's part, so that we'd have a clue that they were going to do their own "dystopian future in which heroes are outlawed and thus send a time traveller back to the past to try to change things" riff? I don't know, but it did seem a bit much to appropriate well-known comic sagas in back-to-back weeks like that.

Another thing that bugged me was trying to follow the timeline, as laid out in this episode. If I understand what they said, the original timeline had Claire dying at Sylar's hand at the Homecoming dance. That event happened, and then when Hiro tried to kill Sylar in NYC, Sylar healed, using Claire's powers. Thus, future Hiro travelled back to confront Peter Petrelli on the subway train, pre-Homecoming, to tell him to "save the cheerleader, save the world." Then he returned to his own time. Apparently nothing had changed, though, as NYC was still semi-destroyed, Ando still died in the explosion, and the authorities were still hunting down "specials." But something had changed, actually, because now Claire was still alive, and had been hidden away by her foster father and Parkman. Did nothing else change, as a result? Shouldn't there have been a ripple effect, considering a death had been averted and a hugely significant power not attained by the villain? And if there was such an effect, why did Hiro remember going back in a timeline that didn't exist anymore? Is he able to perceive both timelines? And why would he think, upon meeting his younger self and Ando, that they'd been able to kill Sylar - as he asks them - when the world's still mired in darkness as it is? This aspect of the episode really didn't make much sense to me.

A final minor quibble I had was regarding the Hiro/Ando relationship. Dialogue in "Five Years Gone" would make one think that Ando was extremely important to Hiro, which is certainly consistent with everything we've seen of the pair so far. Why, then, when future Hiro walks into the studio and sees Hiro and Ando standing there, doesn't he react at all to seeing his lost friend, instead simply saying, "You!" to his younger self? In fact, he walks by Ando and bearly acknowledges him, which hardly seems indicative of getting a second chance to spend some quality time with someone whose loss had hurt him deeply. That seemed poorly written to me.

I'll give the show credit for pushing the envelope, though. For the average viewer who doesn't read stories like this on a monthly basis, much of this must be of the mind-blowing variety...

No Live Magnolia Magic Anytime Soon

From the latest tour info update on their website, it appears that Magnolia Electric Company won't be touring anywhere near us over the next four months, at least. They're in Europe right now, and then when they return to North America in September, they're in the West and Southwest initially. I'm sure both Tim and Vicki will agree that it's already been too long since we thrilled to their show in September last year.

Hinckley would probably characterize this post as "Franco is still dead" but what the Hell does he know? He hasn't blogged in over a month now!

You Just Gotta Have A Little Faith!

I'm a bit sweet on the "original nastier Slayer," myself...

(Cover to Buffy # 6, for those interested.)

Sunday, April 29, 2007

No Sweeps In Round Two, Or, They Finally Beat Buffalo!

It took seven games, and then an overtime period, and most of a second overtime, but today the Rangers finally got a win against the Sabres, 2-1! After having two goals disallowed during regulation in Game 3 - one that should've been, and one that should've counted - and blowing yet another one-goal lead, it didn't look good for the boys in blue to avoid going down 3-0. But a seeing eye goal by the battered Michal Rozsival late in OT # 2 guaranteed that all of the second round series will go at least five games, and that the Rangers will finish this playoff year with a winning record (worst case: 5-4)!

While I'm expecting the Sabres to bounce back in Game 4, I do like the trend that's developed in both teams' scoring so far in this series. The Sabres keep tallying fewer each game - 5, then 3, and now 1 - while the Rangers have been the model of consistency, with 2 goals in each. Maybe the next game will see the Sabres shut out, along with scoring one into their own net? (-1, you see) Nah, I didn't think so, either.. but it's fun to dream.

Anyway, I got the win at MSG that I was hoping for, so I'm a happy boy.

The Strange Case Of Superboy

I watched the current Legion of Super-Heroes cartoon for the first time today. I'd probably have been all over this TV series like a fat guy on a Twinkie, but for the fact that it's being done in the crappy manga style that so many cartoons are produced in nowadays. That was enough to turn me off what passes for Batman and Teen Titans animated series right now, and it was enough to keep from trying out Legion before now.

But I figured it was time to sample an episode or two so I could see how bad it was. It was part 1 of a 2-part story, and it was one of the classic Legion stories from the 60s - the LSH up against a Sun-Eater - and as such, I'll try to catch at least the conclusion before rendering my verdict. But what was more interesting to me was that it featured Superman as a regular member. This is very strange, since it was Superboy who was always involved with the Legion in the comics, along with - sometimes - his cousin Supergirl. And in fact, the character in the show looks way more like Superboy, than Superman. For those who don't know, Superboy was originally just Superman in his younger years. At various times since then, he's been a completely separate person, but it's clearly the classic interpretation that's being used in the cartoon. He's Superboy in everything but name on that show.

So why aren't they calling him Superboy? Well, the character's in a weird place right now, legally speaking. The estate of Jerry Siegel - co-creator of Superman - won a court case a couple years ago claiming that the ownership of the Superboy character should revert back to them. You can read more about it here and here. The upshot is that DC is busy expunging as many references to Superboy as they can, which obviously extends to other media properties like the Legion cartoon. When they made the villain of last year's Infinite Crisis mini-series a variant Superboy from another universe, that was pretty extreme (what next? Aunt May's a serial killer?) but somewhat understandable in this context. The more they can distance themselves from the classic interpretation, the less likely it is that they'll have to hand over royalties to the Siegel estate. But it definitely makes for some strange tales.

April Really Was A Slow Month!

As was apparent at the midway mark, April's featured a blogging rut for me.

With a day and a half still to go in the month, it's pretty clear that April will be my 2nd lowest, in terms of blogging. This is the 74th post of the month, and I imagine I'll get at least another couple in between now and midnight tomorrow, meaning I'll beat debut-month October and its low water mark of 75. But there's virtually no chance I'll catch previous 2nd worst February and its triple digit (barely) milestone of 100. This means that, in my seven months of blogging, the current month and the first month will be the only ones that saw fewer than 100 posts. And it remains to be seen what May will bring.

Am I getting tired of blogging, running out of things to write about, or just in a temporary lull? I guess we'll find out together...

Saturday, April 28, 2007

The PS/3 Saga Continues

Sit back, buckle up, and enjoy the ride. It's always more fun when it's happening to someone else!

So, as I wrote about not long ago, I've been having an issue with my PS/3 where the video quality has taken a serious hit. Specifically, there's a purple tint to the picture, and a series of wavy lines that roll up the screen continuouslly. Not exactly acceptable when you're striving for the HD experience. I had tried switching the inputs on the TV, and the cables, and the problem had persisted, leading me to believe it was the PS/3 that needed the fix.

Today, Vicki and I travelled to Best Buy - a good 20-minute drive away - in order to trade it in. Since PS/3s come with a 1-year warranty, this went relatively smoothly. We did decide to purchase a 3-year extended warranty this time, though, as the service guy didn't seem at all surprised to see another PS/3 arrive, which made us worry about the track record for the new console thus far. We got the replacement home, only to discover that they'd managed to not give us our USB cable back, which I'd been too busy with the warranty discussion to notice, and Vicki hadn't known to look for. She kindly volunteered to go back out, and so it was another hour before I could actually test out the new box.

At which point, we discovered the problem was still there! I could almost not believe my eyes! (And before any knucklehead asks, no, we didn't just bring the same machine home by mistake. This was a new one, with nothing on its hard drive and none of my settings on it.)

So now I'm left with no choice but to assume it's the TV that's the problem. I've switched the PS/3 and SA8000 box - which use the same HD cable input types - between the 2 HD inputs on the TV, and the problem follows the PS/3. But the fact that 2 different PS/3s, and 2 different sets of PS/3-HD cables, all show the same issue, means it has to be something in the way the TV is handling that specific type of signal. How it can react that way to the PS/3 input and not to the SA box, though, is a mystery to me.

The good news is that the TV is still under a full warranty, so getting it fixed shouldn't cost us anything. The last time we had a problem with our big screen TV was the previous model, and it was a different video issue that only showed up sporadically. It would never happen whenever the service guy came, so he'd end up replacing parts on spec, only to have the badness return months later. That particular saga ended when, after three unsuccessful service calls over two and a half years, Vicki complained that the extended warranty was soon going to run out and we still hadn't had our problem fixed. That cranky e-mail resulted in them offering to replace the defective TV with a new one, and we took that opportunity to upgrade to HD-capable and widescreen (for a couple hundred dollars). That was a little over four years ago.

In this particular case, we don't have to worry about not being able to recreate the problem for the service call, and we'll also have a better sense of whether it gets fixed or not, right away! And, y'know, if they have to give us another new TV.. oh well! The only hassle will be finding a time that one of us can be home for the usual 4-hour window!

Oh, and while I did have to reload the System Updates for both the PS/3 and Resistance: Fall of Man, and did lose all of my offline campaign progress for that game, as well as the saves for our Star Wars Lego game, I was able to retain my kimota94 userID, meaning I'm still a Supreme Commander in R:FoM online, with nearly 1000 games under my belt!

Friday, April 27, 2007

More News From Ebert

If you're interested in how Roger Ebert is doing, click here.

In allowing himself to be seen - and photographed - as he recovers from his surgery, Ebert knows he's opening himself up to ridicule and gossip. To which he says:

"I’m told that paparazzi will take unflattering pictures, people will be unkind, etc. Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn. As a journalist I can take it as well as dish it out."

Attitudes like that are what separate the phonies from the real people. As someone who's had his own TV show for decades, Roger Ebert has every reason to be proud, at least too proud to want anyone to see him in a reduced state. The fact that he's willing to, as he says, stop "hiding illnesses," is pretty impressive.

I was going to post one of the photos of him here, but then decided that it's only fair you go and read his words, if you want to see what he looks like. It's a good read.

Another Game, Another Loss

But at least tonight my New York Rangers weren't horribly outplayed like they had been in Game 1. In fact, had they been just a little more successful at clearing their own zone when the Sabres had the pressure on - a Ranger would actually get possession of the puck, and then be unable to get it out! - they could actually have earned the split in Buffalo. They had 1-0 and 2-1 leads, but each was short-lived, with the first one existing for less than a minute!

In the end, the better team prevailed 3-2 and now the Rangers are down 2-0 in the series, heading home. It'd be nice if they won a game at MSG in this series, but whatever. They may've used up everything they had tonight, and still came away empty-handed. I can't imagine they'll be able to play any better against a team like the Sabres (who've now beaten them six straight times since the season started!)

The really sad part is: I was splitting my attention between two Rangers games tonight: NYR vs Buf, and the Texas/Toronto baseball game. Had both Rangers won, or both lost, I would've at least had something to cheer about! But instead the good Rangers lost and the bad Rangers won. Sigh.

How Do You Cancel A Show After Only 3 Episodes?

I don't know, but apparently Fox does! As the Man from Mars reported on his blog, the word is that Fox has pulled the plug on Drive, despite only three episodes having aired so far! (I remember the days when they'd barely have gotten the ratings on those installments yet!) The two remaining unaired episodes will apparently be shown sometime this summer, although I strongly suspect that means we won't get any kind of resolution. I think networks should ought to have to commit a little more to us, the viewers, before putting on new shows and asking us to invest a bit of ourselves in them.

Moves like this remind me of the days when David Letterman used to refer to "the Fox Network" and then pause to laugh at what a ludicrous notion that was.

Bitter? Me? Why do you ask...?

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Little Known Art House Film Debuts Next Week

It's an old story, about a boy, and a girl, and the boy's doting aunt, and another boy, and another girl, and a third boy made out of sand, and yet another boy with daddy issues, and all of the boys like to dress up in funny costumes, and all of the girls can never stay out trouble for long and need lots of rescuing...

What say? Anyone want to skip out of work next Friday and go check out this indy pic?

(People notorious for talking too much need not apply!)

(Just kidding.)


Agile Manager Appreciation Day

Today at work, I actually had someone express her appreciation for what I do as the Agile Manager. And it seemed sincere!

Never mind who it was. Never mind what it was about.

I. Was. Appreciated.

That is all.

Too Good Not To Share

Hinckley drew my attention to this at work today, but I didn't have a chance to check it out. And then I got sent to it a 2nd time from Sean Twist's blog tonight.

I can't decide if I like the fan film best, or the blogger's commentary for it!

Click here and leave your sanity behind...

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

"They Found The Plane... There Were No Survivors"

Well now, that's a horse of a different colour! Are all the shenanigans going on on the island just happening in someone's head? (The creators of the show have steadfastly maintained that's not the case!) Or has the outside world just been tricked into believing that Oceanic Flight 815 was recovered? What can this possibly mean? (I expected her to say something like, "But that flight went down over five years ago!" but certainly didn't anticipate this.)

I loved the peek into Sun and Jin's history, as well as the totally unexpected return of Eye Patch Guy (Dmitri?), raising the question: does dead really mean dead, on this island of theirs? And just what kind of island heals wounds, increases the fertility of the people on it, but then kills all expectant mothers before their third trimester? I mean, really!

Gonna Be A Short Series

It's only taken a period and three quarters to show the Rangers are way overmatched by the Sabres in this 2nd round series. It's now 3-0 Buffalo nearing the end of the middle frame, but more significantly, the Rangers just look inept at putting any pressure on the Sabres' defense, or their goalie (Ryan Miller). The officials have also shown quite quickly their willingness to turn a blind eye on anything the Sabres do to Rangers pest, Sean Avery, contributing to the lopsided powerplay situation thus far. But even without that disadvantage, these boys are in over their heads, and I'm seeing now how Buffalo got the President's Trophy this season.

The biggest disappointment has been that the 2nd and 3rd goals were soft ones that Lundqvist should've stopped. My only hope for them doing some damage in this series was that he'd stand on his head in net, and clearly that's not going to be the case here. That, and defenseman Rosival going down early in the game, has probably sealed their fate before the series really got underway. Oh well.

On the bright side, though, I'm feeling almost no stress or depression as this plays out, since I really only wanted them to improve on last year's results (which they did, in fine fashion, against Atlanta). Regardless of the outcome of this series, the 2006/07 Rangers season will be remembered as a success, whereas Sabres fans better hope their team wins the Cup, as anything less is going to be spelled f-a-i-l-u-r-e! (Ha, take that, Buffalo-ites!)

We Weren't The Only Ones Watching The Watchmen

Apparently the New York Post was paying attention, too, as one of their columnists not only spotted the Watchmen plot point in this week's Heroes, but also went on to conjecture about how that might just piss off those planning the Watchmen movie..

He Said It Better Than I Ever Could

I don't always remember to read comic writer Steven Grant's weekly online column, Permanent Damage, because, while I tend to agree with his viewpoint more often than not, his targets are generally too obvious to be all that interesting to me. But every once in awhile he comes out and says something that impresses me simply because someone said it! Case in point in this week's column:

"Last week was practically a national orgy of pointless touchy feely twaddle, between the twin poles of "public mourning" for those shot at Virginia Tech and public outrage at how Alec Baldwin talks to his 11 year old daughter on the phone. And the one thing we're absolutely not supposed to say is: so what? Because, see, that's just not being sensitive.

Do we really need a week or more to mourn the victims at Virginia Tech? No one's arguing that it wasn't an awful event or a terrible loss of life. But do we really need day after bloody day of "news" reports telling us over and over and over things we already know, and telling us how we're supposed to feel - bad, very bad, traumatized even - instead of giving us any, you know, real information. Then in flood the Big Mothers trying to legislate behavior so that we can become a kinder, gentler people while the Compassionate Conservatives argue that the only thing that can save us is more police power, even if we have to give up a few liberties here and there to get it. The same bloody dance every time something like this happens while the fact is that almost none of us knew these people. Those who knew them, sure, they've got every right to mourn just as long as they want to, and probably many of them will do it in some way for the rest of their lives. The rest of us? They were nothing more to us than faces flashed by on a TV screen or printed in a newspaper and no more significant to most of our lives than any number of people who get shot or stabbed to death, or run over by cars or poisoned by their spouses or any other violent means anywhere else in the world, and it's not dishonoring the memory of the dead to remember that. There were people - parents, siblings, relatives, friends, co-workers, roommates, etc. - who were truly hurt by their passing and the rest of us do not deserve to claim any part of that pain.

Because that makes it about us, not them."

And while it's certainly not going to win any popularity contests to admit it, that's exactly how I feel about such things.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Superman And Flash Race? Who Ever Heard Of Such A Thing?

In case there's a soul on the planet who doesn't know this already, last week's inspired Hurley/Charlie dialogue about who'd win in a race between Superman and Flash wasn't just plucked out of thin air. Within the confines of Lost, this may seem like a novel idea; but in the world of comics, the two super-speedsters have actually gone head-to-head a number of times, as documented nicely here. In fact, I daresay the question of who'd win such a contest is one that's occupied the average comic fan's mind way more than it ever should have!

A much deeper concept to ponder is this: any possessor of superspeed ought, by rights, to take out nearly any opponent before the other person can even see them move! If you can attain the kinds of speeds Flash and Superman do, or even the much more subdued Quicksilver-level velocity, how exactly do you not use that power to get the early jump on your enemy in less time than it takes them to complete a blink? Comic writers famously dodge this question, issue after issue...

He's Green! He's Grey! He's Green!

One of the juicier comic movie rumours floating around this week was that the re-imagining of the Hulk was possibly going to include the man monster in his original hue from The Incredible Hulk # 1 (1962): grey (or gray)! This stemmed from some comments Marvel producer Avi Arad made over the weekend about what colour the new Hulk would be. I can't help but think the story got some of its steam from this picture which shows Iron Man in a light similar to how he debuted: grey armour, before eventually graduating to gold, and then to the red and gold combo he's sported ever since.

Anyway, today we learn that Arad was just goofin' around, and there's no reason to believe ol' Greyskin.. I mean, Greenskin, will look anything other than emerald-toned in his return. But it was fun while it lasted.. and hey, if the Web-head can go black in Spider-Man 3, why wouldn't we believe in a grey Hulk for the silver screen?

Monday, April 23, 2007

Great Finish To Round One

Vancouver finally solved Turco after being shut out for the last two games, and the two empty-netters notwithstanding, it was an amazing and exciting Game 7, won 4-1 by the Canucks over the Stars!

So the full set of Conference Semi-Finals will be:


San Jose vs Detroit (starts Thurs, I think)
Vancouver vs Anaheim (starts Wed)


Ottawa vs New Jersey (starts Thurs)
NY Rangers vs Buffalo (starts Wed)

I'm sure Round 2 won't be as much fun as its predecessor was - for me, anyway - but it should still have some good matchups.

Pretty Impressive Heroes Tonight

A lot of ground was covered in sixty minutes (minus commercials), including the first mention I've picked up on that the previous generation(s) of superpowered individuals may've been a force to reckon with. Shades of the Golden and Silver Age!

Linderman's notion that a catastrophe striking New York City is "what the world needs" seems awfully Watchmen-esque to this comics fan, though. The writers must know that a sizable portion of their audience are comic geeks, and Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons' masterpiece is one of the most-read, and best-loved, examples of the genre, after all. Do we take this as a tip-of-the-hat in their direction, or a ham-handed swipe? And considering the number of people who - in my opinion, mistakenly - had issues with that aspect of Watchmen, how will they react upon seeing it re-used in such a popular TV show? I'm forming my own theory that NYC's really going to be destroyed, but that possibly Hiro teleports everyone out of the city before it happens. After all, in the vision Peter had of that event, there didn't seem to be anyone in the city except the superpowered variety, right? That would still count as the city being devastated, after all, as the headline in tonight's episode predicted.

I thought it was interesting that we learned Linderman's power - now can he do that with dead people? - but not Grandma Petrelli's! The way HRG used Parkman's power was impressive, especially as compared to Peter's feeble attempt against Sylar ("I know.. I'll turn invisible and then just stand here!"). Vicki correctly predicted that Claire would pull out the piece of glass from Peter's head, but neither of us picked up on why 'Jessica' suddenly changed her mind about letting Linderman use Micah... "insurance policy" indeed!

NBC's policy of letting the show run past 10:00 is annoying when you're watching it recorded, as we were tonight (actually just buffered a few minutes). The last thing we saw was Hiro and Ando seeing the timeline, hearing a sword being drawn, and then seeing future Hiro arrive. Future Hiro says, "You..." and our Hiro says, "Me...?" (I think) and then it cut out. Did anything happen after that?

Boy, what a comic geek's wet dream this show has become!

The PS/3 Blues

Wednesday last week, just prior to the Rangers completing their sweep of Atlanta in the first round of the NHL playoffs, I powered on my PS/3 to check whether wireless was working (my laptop wasn't able to get an IP address at that time). When I did so, I noticed that the colours were all wrong (there was too much of a purple and green tint to everything), the audio had a deep hummmm to it, and there was a wavy line travelling up the screen continually, causing distortion. After spending a few minutes trying simple stuff - power off and on, check the cables - I gave up so that I could focus on the hockey game. My assumption at the time was that the $50 HD cables I'd bought in early January had gone kablooey and that I'd be looking at replacing them.

Today, on my day off, I did some deeper investigation. I switched from HD to SD, and used my PS/2 cables in place of the HD component cables I'd been using. Right away I could tell the problem wasn't with the cables, as the same situation existed with the PS/2 cables. So now I'm lead to believe the issue's with the PS/3 itself. It's almost unusable in this condition, as the graphics are fairly distorted, and the audio hummmm is quite annoying. (Having said that, I did manage to finish the single person version of Resistance: Fall of Man today.) The good news is that PS/3's come with a 1-year warranty, according to the Sony site I visited. So this may mean I'll be trading it in for a new one, which I imagine means I'll lose all of my R:FoM online progress (including my promotions thru the ranks), since it's tied to a particular box MAC address. I guess that's not so big a deal, though, as long as the problem gets dealt with.

Another Marathon Ends

Just finished watching the Red Wings eliminate the Flames in double overtime. Between how tired Calgary looked tonight, and how lifeless the Lightning appeared at the end of the third period of their game today, I'm wondering about scheduling in the 1st round this year. It used to be that you could count on playing every second night, until your series was over. Now we get games on back-to-back nights - the Rangers and Thrashers even had that, in Games 3 and 4 - and sometimes three games in four nights, as happened in the Detroit/Calgary series. That sort of thing ought to be reserved for the regular season, if you ask me. The games are too important in the playoffs to have teams lose because they're tired. How much of this year's wacky calendar resulted from the desires of NBC and the Versus network in the U.S., rather than availability of arenas, I wonder?

Anyway, now the only unknown is the winner between Vancouver and Dallas. The Western Conference semi-final matchups will be: Detroit vs San Jose and Anaheim vs Vancouver (if the Canucks win Game 7), or Detroit vs Dallas and Anaheim vs San Jose (if Dallas wins). I gotta say the first scenario is more appealing to me, but I guess it'll come out whatever way it's gonna.

Sunday, April 22, 2007

If You Could Change Anything In Your Workplace...

... what would it be?

Since many of you work in the same place I do - while others work elsewhere, or don't work at all - I'm throwing this open to anyone who's comfortable in providing an answer. Imagine you've got a magic wand and could change one thing, intended to make it a better place (not just to get yourself rich), what would you change?

The introduction of Agile has at least started to address some of the issues that used to bug me about my own work environment. So right now I'd have to say that I'd improve things by introducing a rule whereby all executives have to spend one day each month doing something in the office that's well outside their normal activities, and then report on it in a blog or newsletter. Having such a thing in place would force the most influential people in our company to step outside their hectic but removed routine on a regular basis, and I can't help but believe they'd all gain a better appreciation for some of the realities that they're currently oblivious to, or in denial of. I can just imagine how interesting it would be to have the president, or any of the VPs, spend a full day on a Feature Team, for example, or helping debug a problem in the field.

Possibly this should be extended to all management, not just the exec team, but I'd be willing to start small!

The Second Round

With New Jersey's 3-2 win over Tampa Bay this afternoon, the matchups in the NHL's Eastern Conference Semi-Finals are now set. The Rangers draw the dubious task of taking on 1st place Buffalo (the Sabres won all 4 meetings between the teams this season, although 3 of them were post-regulation), while the Devils will own home ice advantage to start their series against Ottawa. The only thing settled in the West is that Anaheim and San Jose are in, while Detroit can advance with a win tonight in Calgary - or send the series to a Game 7 in Detroit if they lose - and Vancouver and Dallas will flip a coin tomorrow night in their own Game 7.

As was mentioned on TSN's The Sports Reporters this morning, there are four teams already included in the 2nd round who are both serious contenders, and also vying for their first ever Cup. Buffalo, Ottawa, Anaheim and San Jose all have legitimate shots at going all of the way, and none of them have ever sipped from Lord Stanley's chalice before. Buffalo, the city, was particularly noted, since they've never won a major championship of any sort there, despite coming close 4 years in a row in the SuperBowl, as well as having come within an illegal-but-allowed goalcrease goal by Brett Hull of hosting a victory parade in 1999.

New Jersey and the Rangers represent the "old guard" in the East, having won 4 of the last dozen Cups between them, while Detroit, Calgary and Dallas (whichever of them makes it) all have Cup wins in the past two decades. That leaves Vancouver (again, if they make it), as the other newbie in the West, meaning that it's possible 3 of the final 4 Western representatives will be in that category by the time the dust settles.

Since the last 2 Finals have been won by first-timers, fans in Buffalo, Ottawa, Anaheim, San Jose and Vancouver all have reason to hope. At this time of year, of course, any fan whose team is still in it can be excused for dreaming. But the sad fact is that 15 of the 16 playoff teams will end their year on a losing note, and those aren't exactly hopeful odds! The only thing worse is not getting into the post-season at all (as Rangers fans endured for 7 consecutive years, 1998 through 2004)...

24 Hours To Heroes

It's going to be a tough call tomorrow at 9:00: watch Heroes and record Drive, or record Drive and watch Heroes! (Ha! They're both the same thing, didja notice?)

[Edit: Turns out Drive's on at 8:00, not 9:00, so we can actually watch both live. There's 24 on it at 9:00, though, plus Game 7 of the Canucks/Stars series, which means it's still going to be a busy hour!]

Clearly, Heroes' return trumps the 4th hour of Drive (although we'll definitely be looking forward to watching the latter later). With only five Season One episodes to go, the invulnerable cheerleader, flying politician, mind-reading cop, and the rest have a lot of ground to cover if they're really going to wrap up their storylines this year. Is New York City actually going to be destroyed, and if so, how does Peter Petrelli avoid going boom? Will Nikki ever get Jessica under control so she can get her life back? Can Hiro become the Master of Space and Time that we all want him to be? How can HRG (Bennett) avoid getting axed by his company (and I don't mean fired)? Is Nathan Petrelli really headed to the White House, as VP, in 2 years? And c'mon, how the heck is Peter going to avoid having his skull cut open by Sylar?

I don't know the answer to any of those questions, but I can hardly wait to find out!

War (What Is It Good For?)

Apprently, in comics right now, war's perceived as being good for sales! Both major publishers have just finished, or are about to start up, storylines that revolve around major warfare.

Marvel Comics, of course, wrapped up their Civil War about a month ago. It was the best-selling title each month in which an issue came out. It's changed the Marvel landscape, at least for awhile. And it lead to the unmasking of Spider-Man, and the death of Captain America. Heady stuff that I've written enough about already.

DC Comics just crammed World War III into a week's worth of comics, certainly making it the shortest such event in human history! I wrote yesterday about how 52 has wandered away from its original mission statement, and the decision to include a so-called World War in one of its final weeks seems indicative of its wayward nature. I'll grant that the story had been built up to nicely, in that we'd watched Black Adam's progression from villain to almost-hero and then back to villain-with-a-vengence. But the execution itself seemed rushed, from obvious questions like, "Why didn't the heroes intervene earlier?" going unanswered, to other deeper concerns like, "If a World War just concluded 2 weeks before the One Year Later storylines started up in all of the titles, why weren't there any references to it?" Some have conjectured that DC threw together this idea as a reaction to Marvel's Civil War success. It seems as good an explanation as any for what transpired.

And finally, Marvel's about to launch into World War Hulk. This is another big crossover event, not quite on the scale of Civil War, but close. The basic plot goes like this: before the Civil War among the heroes started, Reed Richards, Tony Stark and others conspired to send Bruce Banner off into space, because they figured the Hulk was too much of a wildcard for them to be able to handle as they pushed the Superhuman Registration Act through. Despite owning some of the brainiest craniums in the Marvel Universe, their plan to send him to an uninhabited planet where he could live out the rest of his days in quiet contemplation - or more likely smashing stuff and wishing he could get his big green hands around their necks - went hopelessly awry and his jailship crashed in a land that was engaged in barbaric savagery and religious fanaticism. No, not the Middle East, but rather an alien planet that provided a backdrop for Greenskin to rise from arena gladiator to freed soldier to warrior king in a few short months! (This tale was known as Planet Hulk and was limited to the regular Hulk title, but ran for over a year, our time.) Around the time Civil War was wrapping up, though, the ship he arrived in started malfunctioning, and then eventually exploded... taking most of the planet's inhabitants with it! And yes, this seems to imply that Reed, et al, are now responsible for the deaths of billions of alien lives, including Hulk's blushing bride-queen! Fortunately - or not, depending on your perspective - Banner survived the catastrophe and now has himself a space-faring ship of his own, and is headed to Earth! And he's not coming to sell Avon! World War Hulk starts any day now!

So why all the emphasis on war stories in comics right now? Is the U.S.'s occupation of Iraq, in addition to their having been engaged in two wars in the past six years, behind this trend? Or is it simply a case of comic writers realizing that the easiest way to pit superpowered adversaries against each other is to start a war and put them on opposite sides? I don't know, but something's up, that's for sure.

Now That's Good Comics!

After slamming 52 earlier today, it's a relief to say something good about a DC comic. I just read Justice League of America # 8, the first of the 5-part JLA/JSA crossover. And... wow.

The two teams start off hanging out together, as a few of them are engaged in a friendly game of Capture the Flag, a couple others are playing chess matches against a blindfolded Mr Terrific - the 3rd smartest man on the planet, we're told - and Batman and Black Lightning are busy examining the Legion of Super-Heroes member they've just discovered in the Batcave. So much of this comic is aimed at the longtime fan that I'm not sure how well it works for anyone else.. but as one of those greying readers, I don't care!

It looks like the central plot is going to revolve around seven LSH members having been stranded 1000 years in their past - which means the 21st century - and the JLA and JSA having to find or rescue them, and then figure out how they got here. We know that the (JSA villain) Ultra-Humanite is involved, and that a trip to Arkham Asylum is imminet. In other words: total geekout storyline, allowing series writers Meltzer and Johns to scratch their fanboy itches bigtime. As an example: this issue ends with the two super-teams splitting up into smaller groups to begin the search, which was a staple of the original crossovers from the 60s and 70s.

This is the sort of comic that reminds me why I still love the genre so much!

Saturday, April 21, 2007

Dialogue Vs Debate

Something I've started noticing in certain meetings at work is the difference between dialogue and debate. I've never personally been fond of debates, because they tend to involve closed-minded people not listening to each other. After all, the point of a debate is to take a point-of-view, and then defend it against all attacks, while simultaneously looking for opportunities to shred the opposing view. As an academic exercise, I guess there's some value to that; but in a collaborative environment, it seems more a liability, than an asset, to me.

Today I did a little Internet research on this topic. While I didn't find anything particularly surprising, what I read brought together a few points I'd not considered in relation to each other before.

First, debate seems to be favoured by those types of people who care more about being proven right, than learning something new. I can certainly see some of this in my own personality, and the whole "going Agile" experience has pushed me to the limit in terms of being able to accept new ideas. Upon reflection, I can recall times when I've debated points instead of engaging in a dialogue about them. I'm reminded of something the Man from Mars posted recently, which essentially advised: "Speak as if you're right; listen as if you're wrong." There's nothing wrong with defending your position - in fact, it's essential - but being able to consider that maybe you're wrong, as you listen to the other side of the argument, would seem to make a world of difference.

Also, having a dialogue displays a degree of respect that debating is mostly lacking. I'm sure that master debaters (not to be confused with... oh never mind!) would say that they always feel and show respect for their worthy opponents, but the rest of us, while in that mode, tend to fall into a frame of mind similar to an adult-to-child relationship. "I know so much more about this than you could possibly understand, so if only you'd listen to my points, you'd understand just how silly your stance really is." We'd never come right out and say that - well, most of us wouldn't - but there's often an under current of that attitude, I find. And again, I count myself among the guilty in this regard.

One document I read even offered up specific wording that you can use to help you stay within a dialogue framework. Ask for clarification to address your own confusion, for example, instead of simply dismissing whatever you just heard as "nonsense" or "ridiculous." Or saying, "I'd like to talk some more about how we'd use this to solve the original problem" rather than "There's no way that idea would even solve the issue we're talking about" can open up lines of conversation, instead of closing them.

So those of you who work with me, you now have standing orders to help me turn debates into dialogues, including my own.

Zombies Keep Coming Back, In More Ways Than One

Zombies seem to be one of those "in" things right now. I don't really follow horror movies nowadays, but it seems like they've been shuffling through a few of those lately (would the constant murderous rages of 28 Days Later, and now 28 Weeks Later, count?)

More significantly - to me, anyway - is the phenomenon within the pages of Marvel comics recently. I think it started a couple years ago, with a storyline in Ultimate Fantastic Four. The plot had the Ultimate universe's Reed Richards using his genius to contact another Reed Richards, in a parallel universe. We readers were lead to believe this was going to result in the first crossover between Marvel's regular universe (sometimes referred to as the 616 universe) and their Ultimate line. Instead, shockingly, we discovered Ultimate Reed was actually about to visit a third parallel universe, in which a zombie-fying virus had been unleashed. As the most powerful host bodies, the Marvel heroes and villains were now at the top of the gruesome food chain, employing their powers to find fresh flesh to eat. At the point where Ultimate Mr Fantastic unwittingly contacts his counterpart and prepares to visit him, the dead-heads have just about eaten their way through their Earth's human population, and so the prospect of finding a brand new version to feast on is just about too yummy for words!

This storyline was wildly popular among the fans, and it wasn't long before the decades-old label "Marvel zombies" - used previously to describe fans of the company who'd gleefully accept and defend any old crap that showed up under the Marvel brand - was applied to this new world and its zombie-fied cast. The flesh-eating variety have since had their own mini-series - entitled Marvel Zombies, of course - and are starring in another mini-series right now, which is a crossover with Ash Williams, from Sam Raimi's Army of Darkness film. I flipped through the first issue when it came out last month, and laughed out loud at a couple scenes, so I decided to buy it. It's a funny variation on the usual Marvel fare, because the usual heroes - Spider-Man, Captain America, Wolverine, Punisher - are still recognizable in terms of personalities and powers, but also oh-so comical in their pursuit of flesh to feast on! I can't tell yet if these are, in fact, the same Marvel Zombies that I saw in Ultimate Fantastic Four, or just the same idea but in a different setting. I suppose it doesn't really matter.

Anyway, are others seeing zombies showing up a lot these days, or is it just me?

52 Putdown

I just finished reading 52 # 50, along with the four World War III tie-in issues, all of which came out this week. I also read the editorial that was in the back of each (as well as every other DC title this week), in which DC Executive Editor Dan Didio offers up "A confession of sorts" (his words). Basically, what Didio writes about is the fact that, somewhere in the past fifty weeks, the four writers of 52 (Geoff Johns, Grant Morrison, Greg Rucka and Mark Waid) lost their way (my words). What 52 was initially intended to do was to fill in the gaps between the end of last year's Infinite Crisis, and the comics that came out a month later, all of which were set "One Year Later" (OYL). Most titles started off OYL with some sort of mystery, or presenting a significant change that had happened over the missing year, and then 52 was supposed to fill us in on all of those developments, over a year's worth of weekly comics. To provide some continuity within the series, the "Fab Four" writers opted to use some minor DC characters (Renee Montoya, Ralph "Elongated Man" Dibney, Adam Strange, John Henry "Steel" Irons, among others) as the vehicles for telling those tales. However, as Didio writes in his editorial, "As their stories grew, it became clear by the second issue of 52 that the series would be about them and their trials and tribulations."

To which I say, WTF??

I mean, they sold the concept of the weekly comic using one hook - find out how these changes came about - and then basically decided to do something else with it by the second issue? That's either bad writing, or irresponsible behaviour, or both.

In fact, the reason for the four World War III issues, apparently, was to provide a venue for "wrapping up" those OYL storylines. So, in the span of one week, we get a flurry of jarring scenes, or - believe it or not - simply dialogue, most of which come across as being out of left field, as well as totally artificial and forced! Instead of seeing them grow organically over the course of a year, as we'd been lead to believe would happen, they're crammed into a few pages spread over four one-shots!

Now, I've more-or-less enjoyed 52 as it's rolled along, so clearly the four writers have done a good job making these secondary characters interesting. But there's absolutely no reason they couldn't have worked in, over the course of fifty-two comics, a more natural progression of those OYL bits. The only thing I can think of is that they just didn't really want to be bothered doing, well, what they were originally contracted to do!

With a followup weekly comic set to debut in three weeks - Countdown, which DC has yet to reveal what it's counting down to, and which will start with issue # 51, then # 50, and so on down to # 0 - I have to wonder if DC even knows what it's doing in this area. By the time we get to the single digit final issues of Countdown, will its writers and editor have forgotten that it was supposed to be counting down to something, and instead have turned it into a weekly team-up title by then?

At a time when I'm divesting myself of Marvel titles at a staggering rate, I'm starting to worry that maybe DC's heading south, as well.

Friday, April 20, 2007

One Of The Weirder Things About Blogging...

... is that you're never really sure who's reading!

Several times in recent weeks, I've been in conversations in which I realized the person I was talking to already knew what I was about to say, because they'd read my account of it either on my work blog or here. In each case, these were individuals who I didn't have any reason to think were following either blog, and yet they had been.

The problem this poses for me is this: with the exception of a few notables (PeterJ, Hinckley, Man from Mars, Tammy), I can never really count on the fact that someone has read a blog post! So it's not like I can either just skip mentioning whatever it was that came into my mind, or make a vague reference to it, confident that the other person will know what I mean. And of course it's even more confusing with two different blogs in play, and some people who only read the one, some who only read the other, and still others who 'sample' one or another of the other blogs infrequently.

And that's not even counting the times when, based on a look I got, I've thought someone knew what I was talking about based on me blogging about it, only to have confusion ensue, followed eventually by, "You have a blog?"

Thursday, April 19, 2007

First Adams, Now Steranko?

According to Blog @ Newsarama, there's at least a chance that comics legend Jim Steranko may be poised to make a return to mainstream comics! Steranko's handful of Captain America and Strange Tales/Nick Fury, Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. issues from the 60s remain some of the most artistic offerings the genre's ever seen. I'm sure some of Steranko's stature stems from how short his career was - his choice - as we really never got a chance to even get used to his style before he was off to greener pastures.

Personally, the prospect of seeing Neal Adams draw Batman again and Steranko on Captain America once more is enough to make me light-headed.

Maybe I Don't Completely Suck At My Job After All

One of the more interesting revelations to come out of my business trip last week was a new perspective on my role of Agile Manager. The sibling office that I was visiting had gone Agile a little before we did, and had chosen Scrum as their methodology (where we opted to create our own hybrid, adhering to the principles but mixing up the practices). Hence I was more than a little curious to see how they were doing, first-hand, and learn what issues they were struggling with compared to what was on our plate back home.

Possibly the first "ah ha!" moment came for me when I was asked, several times, just what my role at my company was. The title "Agile Manager" certainly offered little insight, but it did prove to be an effective conversation starter! Since I'd been asked that same question dozens of times "at home", I'd gotten good at providing flip responses like "It means I don't have to do Performance Reviews!" and "It's whatever I feel like doing today!" In this less convivial environment, though, I didn't think that was the best approach to take, which left me kind of stuck for an answer. Stupidly, I ended up providing examples of things I do ("provide coaching to our Feature Leads", "act as a Feature Lead, where needed") rather than thinking in more general terms.

At a group dinner one of the nights, however, I called on my boss to offer up his own testimonial for what the Agile Manager role is, and he put it better than I'd been able to. And, as a follow-up to that, my new companions offered up their own interpretations of what they'd inferred, which helped me refine the vision. What we came up with was something along the lines of, "An advocate for the Feature Teams, but also someone who champions the Agile principles by holding both management's, and the teams', feet to the fire as far as adhering to those principles." Which was better than anything I'd ever come up with!

The other aspect of the revelation is more speculative in nature. Some of the things our partners were struggling with, that we'd already overcome or simply not encountered, seemed to me to be issues that the presence of "an advocate for the Feature Teams, but also someone who champions the Agile principles..." had helped us get past, or avoid outright. This was the moment where I thought, "Hey, maybe I've been doing a more important job than I'd thought." Which could just be a classic case of delusions of grandeur, but it didn't feel that way. I don't know that either my boss or I, when we created the Agile Manager position, were really thinking in those terms. And yet somehow it had morphed into something... well, vital, all on its own. Incremental improvement, indeed!

And of course, now I just have to remember all of this when Performance Review time rolls around in seven months... good thing it's on my blog now, eh, boss!

The New Bike And Good Luck

I picked up my 20-inch 2007 Norco Rideau on Friday of last week - my first day back from Philly - and was able to ride it to work and back on Monday (and Wednesday, and today). It's always a joy to get a new bike and feel how much less effort is involved in getting around than you'd grown accustomed to! To be honest, I even notice the difference after getting a good tune-up, but it's even more pronounced when I go from a 2-year-old machine to a brand new one.

This week was full of treats for me, as the comic haul was great, the Rangers games were amazing, and even work's been pleasant! I also had a minor medical situation to take care of, that I hadn't been looking forward to, and in keeping with the overall tone of the week, the problem turned out to be a non-event! (Even the Flat Tire Count for the week has so far totalled zero!)

Being a pessimist by nature, when I have a week like this, I'm left expecting the other shoe to drop (meaning, a comparable run of bad luck). For the moment, though, I'm just enjoying the ride (in more ways than one).

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Happy Day In Rangers Land

After a walk in the park in Game 3 - a 7-0 romp by the Rangers, in which the Atlanta Thrashers didn't look like they'd even shown up - tonight's Game 4 was a nail-biter from start to finish. The Thrashers got their first lead in the series when they scored first, and then took a 2-1 lead in the 2nd period before Shanahan scored a beauty to tie it up before heading to the 3rd.

The bullet shot by Matt Cullen in the 3rd period, which rang off the crossbar, down into the goal, and immediately out again was initially waved off by the on-ice officials. Fortunately these days we've got Instant Replay to make sure the right calls are made, and pretty much every angle showed that the puck landed fully behind the goal line before flying back out of the net. After a long, long review, the referee pointed to centre ice at MSG and the crowd went wild! The Rangers had their first lead of the game, in a 3rd period during which they could eliminate the Thrashers and get only their 3rd playoff 4-game sweep in team history. That's when the tension really started to mount for me, but I have to say the Blueshirts looked quite impressive playing with a 1-goal lead. Unfortunately they couldn't score on their 5-on-3 after that, but when Atlanta pulled their goalie with just under two minutes left, it wasn't long before Jagr scooped up the puck, skated out of the zone, and fired it on a hop into the empty net! That made the final 1:17 a lot easier on my heart!

As Boneman knows, my goal for the Rangers this year, before the season started, was to make the playoffs again and do better than last year. Considering they were swept by the Devils in 2006, and didn't even manage to win a single period, I figured they probably couldn't do much worse, if they made the playoffs! Upsetting the # 3 seed in the East, doing it in a sweep, and outscoring their opponents 17-6 in the process definitely constitutes doing "better than last year!" They've accomplished the goal I set for them, so everything from here on in is bonus. And considering that they'll likely face Buffalo or the winner of Ottawa/Pittsburgh in the next round, I'm not expecting them to have much more success. But that first round series was a major thrill, and by winning it 4-0 they've guaranteed that they won't have a losing record in the 2007 playoffs.

I can also mention now that I was really hoping the Rangers would draw the Thrashers in the 1st round once they clinched their playoff spot, instead of having to play the Devils, but of course I didn't want to make too much of a big deal out of it. After all, there's nothing quite like saying you want your team to play XXXX, getting that wish, and then watching your team get smoked by XXXX. But this year it certainly worked out, as Atlanta was the team New York could beat, despite a lacklustre season series against them.

Finally, I did some theorizing earlier in the playoffs where I wanted to figure out if there was any way the Rangers and Devils could meet in the 2nd round, assuming both advanced, of course. I couldn't see any way that that could happen, but then one of the announcers on the MSG network said something about the Rangers potentially drawing New Jersey in the next round. I think that's impossible, but could certainly stand to be corrected, if I'm wrong. The way I saw it was this: If Buffalo (# 1) wins, then the Rangers are the lowest seed to advance (New Jersey, at # 2, will have knocked off # 7 Tampa Bay) and so they must play the Sabres. If the Islanders (# 8) somehow beat the Sabres, then New Jersey (# 2) would be the highest seed, and the Islanders would clearly be the lowest seed, so they'd play and the Rangers would get the winner of the Pens/Sens series (# 4 vs # 5). Did I miss something?

Sad Day In The Blogosphere

After four weeks with no activity, I've had to remove Hinckley's Ramblings of a Geek blog from my links. I just can't justify sending people there when there's nothing new ever being posted.

Sad day indeed.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Clearly I'm Not The Only One Who's Superstitious!

I can totally relate to this story about San Diego Chargers fans petitioning to keep runningback Ladainian Thomlinson off the cover of the upcoming Madden NFL '08 videogame! The article lists several other NFL superstars who adorned the game box in the past, only to suffer significant injuries right afterward. And who'd wish that on their franchise player?

Makes complete sense to me...

Exciting Comics Coming Out Tomorrow (Apr 17th Edition)

Big week this time around, both in terms of volume and excitement.

52 # 50 - I'm not sure how something that lasts only one week - possibly only part of one week - qualifies for the label World War Three, but DC's claiming that's what we get here. Along with this crucial issue of 52 come 4 one-shots this week tying into WWIII: A Call To Arms, The Valiant, Hell Is For Heroes and United We Stand. Besides sharing a title with one of the better Babylon 5 TV movies, these comics promise all kinds of exciting events from Black Adam's war with the rest of the world. I'm so there for all five comics!

Brave and the Bold # 3 - This series, only two issues old so far, has been so much fun that I have to pinch myself to believe it actually exists! I'm not crazy about the team-up this time - Lobo and Supergirl?! - but who cares when it's Mark Waid and George Perez doing classic style DC comics?

[Edit: It was actually Batman & Blue Beetle in this issue, with Lobo & Supergirl scheduled for # 4.]

Ex Machina # 27 - I get a comic from scribe Brian K. Vaughan on the same day he makes his writing debut on Lost? Oh baby!

Justice League of America # 8 - And here begins the big JLA/JSA crossover, running between both titles, and apparently bringing the Legion of Super-Heroes into the mix, for good measure! Have I died and arrived in Geek Heaven? It sure feels like it!

Manhunter # 30 - Ah, here's the final issue of this very enjoyable title... until it returns for good in a couple of months!! I'm really happy that DC made the decision that, borderline sales notwithstanding, this is a title they should continue to publish. It's gotten enough critical acclaim to justify its existence, and I think it's slowly building up a reasonable audience (and I'm one of the newer arrivals).

Nightwing Annual # 2 - While I gave up on the regular series months ago, this special issue is written by Manhunter creator Marc Andreyko, which would be enough on its own to get me to buy it. The fact that it features the story of what happened when Dick "Nightwing-Don't-Call-Me-Robin" Grayson proposed to Barbara "Oracle-But-Used-To-Be-Batgirl" Gordon during Infinite Crisis last year just adds to the appeal for this fanboy!

Mighty Avengers # 2 - As I continue to reduce my Marvel Comics pull list each month - hey Marvel: Civil War, it turns out, made a great jumping off point! - this new Avengers title is on the bubble but I'll give it a couple more months to try to win me over. The Frank Cho artwork was really the only attraction in the premiere issue, which doesn't bode well (although it was very good art!)

This Week's Lost Features Brian K. Vaughan As Co-Writer

As you can see from his website, this week we get both our first Brian K. Vaughan Lost episode, and a Desmond story, all wrapped up in one! I'm going to guess that that's a very good thing!

The man continually impresses me on Ex Machina, and I hear that Y: The Last Man is a great comic series (though I've never tried it, beyond a free preview). His Dr. Strange: The Oath mini-series was certainly one of the most interesting treatments that character's ever received.

A Very Few Points About Post # 800

I wrote The Less-Than-Brilliant Life of Norman sometime in the late 1980s. In the comments before the story, I wrote - way back then - that the inspiration for it had come to me while donating blood with a friend and co-worker at the time, Sue Blackwell (who'd subsequently resume her maiden name, Hania, before marrying again, if my memory serves). That little tidbit of info places the writing somewhere around 1988 or 1989, I think.

In re-reading it today, I loved the notion of a hapless vampire. I don't think I'd encountered one anywhere at that point - in fiction, I mean! - but have since, of course, seen them in episodes of Buffy, at least.

Blast From The Past # 9: The Less-Than-Brilliant Life of Norman

The Less-Than-Brilliant Life of Norman

After Norman's favourite pen exploded in his breast pocket, he figured the day couldn't get any worse! How could it? This was his favourite "Czar of Russia" shirt, got for a song (only $7.99 at the local King Value) and only worn twice! And now it was ruined! So Norman was confident that things could only improve. As an accountant, Norman made a good profit. And as a prophet, not surprisingly, Norman made a good accountant!

Treating himself to a consolatory trip to the Twilight Theatre that evening, Norman's spirit quickly soared. The Twilight was famous for its 24-hour Three Stooges marathons. And Norman knew no ecstasy greater than that found in the escapades of Larry, Curly and Moe.

Leaving the theatre shortly after midnight (the movies played on, of course, but this was a weeknight!), Norman began the fourteen block walk back to his mother's house. When he was still several blocks from the house, he began to fumble in his pants pocket, trying to locate his housekey among the change, bubble gum wrappers, marbles, and lint balls. He wanted to get the keys out early so as not to wake his mother (after all, she didn't approve of his staying out late, even though he was thirty-two). Such was his preoccupation with his task that he didn't hear the flapping of wings approaching from behind. In fact, he was oblivious to everything around him, until the small creature landed on his shoulder.

"Don't move," a strange voice hissed into his ear, "this won't hurt a bit!"

Norman's funeral didn't attract many people, but then again, neither had Norman. His mother attended the service, of course, but left before its completion in order to join several lady friends in a shopping trip that had been planned for weeks.

A week after his death, Norman clawed his way up out of his grave and into the clear night air. The casket had been clean enough, but Norman had been disgusted by all of the dirt piled on top of it! He stood picking filth off of his "John Travolta" white suit (why Mother had buried him in that he'd never know!) and then spit out an earth worm that had somehow made its way into his mouth.

"Really gross," he said, as he dug something green out of his left ear.

One might like to imagine that joining the ranks of the Undead would've lent Norman a certain sophistication, or failing that, at least a new sense of perspective. Oh well.

An hour later, Norman stood outside the Twilight Theatre and eyed the Three Stooges poster enviously. Mother, however, had not had the foresight to include any money (or even a credit card!) in the pockets of Norman's burial garb. He knew that a bat could easily fly in through the shadowy areas of the entrance, and he was pretty sure that he should be able to turn into a bat. Unfortunately, he had no idea whatsoever how to make such a transformation!

Considering the matter further, he recalled that he should have a hypnotic power over mortals, and that seemed promising! Picking a mousy fellow in his mid-twenties, Norman sauntered up to the young man and made eye contact.

Affixing his victim with as steely a glare as he could manage, Norman said, "You are... uh, mine to command! By that I mean, your will is my will. No, wait, the other way around!"

At this point, the other man shoved Norman hard and growled, "Fug off, queerboy! Nex time I'll brag yer face!" He gave Norman the finger as he strolled off.

Another idea had been shot to Hell!

"Darn," Norman thought, as his clammy skin turned even clammier, "if I can't even pull this off, how the heck am I ever going to eat??" Something in the back of his mind told Norman that a Big Mac and Large Fries weren't going to kill the hunger that was slowly building within him, but he quickly pushed that thought away. (Norman was, as his mother had often pointed out, one of the few people on the face of the Earth to ever faint from simply hearing someone else talk about giving blood!)

Wallowing in his misery, Norman didn't see the girl approach.

She suddenly tapped him on the shoulder and asked, "Honey, would you like to see a movie with me? My treat?"

Norman rocked back on his heels. His heart would surely have leapt up out of his chest if it hadn't already shriveled up into a tiny ball (it's amazing how a few centuries of wooden stakes can make a species evolve!) Salvation! In the form of a pretty girl, wearing sunglasses!

Taking his cold hand in her warm one, the girl lead Norman to the ticket counter and said, "Two for the Stooges, please."

Moments later, Norman sat with his newfound friend, in his favourite row (right below the screen), and watched in rapt attention as three grown men slapped, poked, prodded, and chased each other across several cities and planets.

Around 4:30 a.m., the girl leaned her mouth against Norman's ear and whispered, "If we leave now, we can make it to my place before sunrise."

Suddenly, Norman remembered that sunlight was now a really bad scene for him! He'd never been all that fond of it to begin with, but now it meant more than just a bad sunburn to him! He quickly agreed to her suggestion.

"Man," he thought as he got up out of his seat, "am I ever lucky she reminded me! I might've stayed here 'til noon, otherwise!"

Excusing himself temporarily, he made his way to the Men's room. Attempting in vain to catch a glimpse of himself in the mirror, Norman finally gave up on his hair (he'd been struck by the idea of giving himself a widow's peak). At the urinal, he was immediately grossed-out by the white syrupy substance that oozed out of what his mother had always referred to as his 'John Henry.'

Back in the lobby, his companion greeted him with a smile. He still couldn't believe his luck in finding this girl!

Once outside, the girl lead Norman to a nearby dark alley. She removed her sunglasses for the first time, and a strange yellow light shone in Norman's face.

"Well, honey, it's been fun, but I'm afraid this is the end of the road for you."

Recoiling from the threat in her voice, Norman whimpered. But then he remembered what he was, and he bared his fangs (cutting his upper lip in the process). "Don't you know what I am?" he asked in the scariest voice he could muster. "I'm a vampire! And vampires feed on humans!"

"Of course they do, honey," she replied, as she loomed over him, "but haven't you ever wondered, what feeds on vampires?"

Monday, April 16, 2007

Drive Is Off To A Fast Start

Vicki and I watched the 2-hour premiere of the new Fox show, Drive, tonight, and were quite impressed. Given the pedigree of one of its creators (Tim Minear), who's worked on Firefly, Angel and The X-Files, I guess we shouldn't be surprised that it was so good. There were a ton of twists and turns in the plot - a few of which I guessed, most of which I didn't - as well as a genuinely interesting set of characters, many of whom I'll admit I actually started to care about. Discovering the differences between the various motivations, as well as the fact that we're not entirely sure of everyone's reasons for being in the race even now, made for a high-speed plot that kept us both glued to our seats. We've recorded - but not yet watched - the 3rd hour, which was on tonight before 24.

I suppose Drive is what The Amazing Race would be, if the latter was actually about something, and well-written, and well-acted. OK, so maybe they're really not very alike at all, beyond the obvious race aspect. Give me a well-done fictional show - like Lost, for example - over a so-called reality show - like Survivor - any day of the week!

P.S. Thanks to PeterJ for mentioning Drive, a few months ago, as something I might be interested in. That got me to at least pay attention to the commercials for it, which in turn piqued my curiousity enough to record the premiere, and away we went. At least I think it was PeterJ. It seems like the sort of thing he'd do, anyway...

It Just Has Got To Be Better Than The First One

Big news for Hulk fans today, as Edward Norton was announced as signing to play Bruce Banner in The Incredible Hulk movie. Best news of all, though, is that the plan is to re-imagine ol' Greenskin in order to undo the damage Ang Lee did in his version a few years ago. Hopefully this means no more Hulk-dogs or Absorbing Man-like fathers!

The fact that an actor of Norton's calibre associated himself with this effort makes me optimistic that it'll actually kick off the franchise for real this time. There's no reason you shouldn't be able to tell compelling stories about a scientist who turns into an out of control, ridiculously powerful beast whenever something makes him angry. Hey, even the old TV show wasn't awful, and all it had was Lou Ferrigno in green body paint, barely able to lift a car, for God's sake!

Sunday, April 15, 2007

April's Been A Slow Month

With the halfway mark of the month only hours away, I've managed a mere 35 posts - counting this one - which is a pace that would make April the lowest output since I began this experiment (at 75 entries, my debut month of October 2006 currently holds that distinction). I hope to pick things up and avoid that dubious honour, but that sort of thing is always hard to predict.

To be honest, there've been a few days lately that I just haven't felt like blogging. Some of that's been work-related. Obviously, spending most of last week out of town didn't help. Another factor has been how quiet the rest of you have been on your own blogs, since one source of inspiration, from time to tiome, has been what I've read elsewhere and wanted to expand upon.

The fact that I passed my six-month mark (April 1st) without even marking - or realizing! - it, says something about how uncharacteristically distracted I've been recently. I'm only a few posts away from # 800, and unless something else occurs to me in the next day or two, I expect I'll simply pick from my dwindling supply of old short stories to commemorate that milestone. Other suggestions are always welcome.

An Update From Ebert

Those who, like me, enjoy the reviews of Roger Ebert and have missed him over the past year or so, can read a brief update from him here.

I have to admit that naming his book featuring reviews of films he's hated "Your Movie Sucks!" seems a bit out of character. But then again, he's had a tough year.

Whither Hinckley?

With no new posts in almost four weeks, it's high time we all urge Jimmy to get back to blogging! I think an outpouring of demand here, in the form of comments directed toward that end, might be enough to help our favourite transplanted Brit shake off his malaise and put fingers to keyboard once more!

I'll start the festivities by saying how desperately I need a good math problem to work on! It's been nearly a month since I had a brain teaser to challenge me, and it's not like my brain's getting any younger! And yes, I know he's been busy with other things, but I still managed a couple postings a day while away on business (which involved 12 or 13 hour workdays, and returns to the hotel delayed until 9:00 pm or later)! So it can be done, if you've got the will..

Stirring The Pot

John August was recently announced as the screenwriter for the Shazam! movie (featuring Captain Marvel, but DC can't use that name in the title because Marvel owns the copyright). August has an interesting blog on which he posts his thoughts on the character. I've just been reading it over, and recommend it for anyone curious about the film but unclear as to exactly just who the Big Red Cheese really is. He mentions several of the more recent Captain Marvel storylines, most of which are quite good - which is saying something, because I've never really had all that much fondness for the good Captain.

But what's much more newsworthy are August's comments toward the end of the entry, under the heading "Why I'm not including the vintage collections." Here's part of what he wrote:

"DC publishes hardcover anthologies that gather up decades’ worth of Captain Marvel comics. If I were writing a dissertation on the evolution of the Captain Marvel character, these would be invaluable. But I’m not. So every time I read one of these, I’m struck with the same realization I encounter trying to watch The Honeymooners or a black-and-white movie: Wow. Old things suck.

Yes, I know that will piss off the vintage comics fans, who insist that the original incarnations are the purest forms of a character. But what you quickly realize is that old-time comic books were awkwardly written, crudely drawn, and bewilderingly inconsistent with their rules. They were making up the art form as they went along, and today’s comic books are better for the accumulated wisdom."

Incendiary words, for sure. I certainly saw a similar attitude in Tammy, when she was much younger, in that she had no interest in watching black & white films, simply because they were B&W. And forget about getting her to sit through a silent movie! But as she got older and her tastes matured, she stopped judging motion pictures so crudely.

I'll certainly admit that "most old things suck." But by the same token, "most new things suck!" In fact, I'm a big believer in Sturgeon's Law: "90% of everything is crap." (I prefer the use of "shit" to "crap", personally.) Most people always seem to be more forgiving of current crap for some reason, though. Many fans of Survivor or Big Brother, over the last few years, will denounce it twenty years from now as "silly" or "pointless," once they're able to look back on it with some perspective. You can see this today in some of the attitude's toward such shows as Dallas or The Dukes of Hazzard (both very popular in their day). But at the same time, a few shows from those eras still stand up well, and find new fans each generation.

And the same is true of comics. Lots of Golden and Silver Age stories are awful to read now, either because of the writing, or the art, or both. But a small percentage of them are pure gold when you read them, forty or fifty years later! And I'm sure the same is true of what's being published now... we just haven't realized it yet! (Well, I'd argue that I have, but no one ever listens to me!)

It should be an interesting film, at the very least...

More Work Ponderings

In a post last month, I mentioned some of my thoughts on Key Performance Indicators (KPIs). It received some great comments from someone named Alexey, who works for an Agile product management company ( I encourage anyone interested in Agile to read those comments, but I also thought it was time to re-energize the subject via a new blog post here.

As an aside: Alexey asks how to subscribe to this blog. I'm sure someone can provide the details (for an invaluable Blog Point) but since I've never subscribed to any blogs, it won't be me!

Just to wrap up the previous conversation, I do think a team can get some value out of comparing their estimates to the actual time spent, but in our environment that make take a lot of different forms. Some teams don't record the actual time spent at all, so in their case it's a question that would only really be asked if they failed to complete some of their committed work. In their Retrospective, they should ask, "Why didn't we complete everything?" and it's possible the answer will be, "Because we under-estimated the work." Most teams I've talked to would have a sense of what the handful of tasks were that ballooned the most, so they could then focus on figuring out how to identify those sorts of tasks in the future. Alternatively, they might conclude that they now know how to handle anything of that type, but what they need to recognize are those things they haven't done before. In other words, they'll know best how to adapt.

However, at least one team I know has taken to tracking their actual time spent, at least in the cases where it varies significantly from the estimate. This pinpoints those under-estimated tasks for them, for use in the Retrospective and subsequent planning sessions. One common pitfall of this approach that I've noticed is that almost no one ever reports a task taking less time than was estimated; when that situation happens, they're happy enough to get a little buffer and seemingly don't want to draw attention to it. Only in the case where they're not completing what they said they would will they admit that the work was mis-estimated. And even then, the information is delivered in a tone of excuse-making rather than lesson-learning, but hopefully that'll change over time. After all, that should be a good thing: we now know more than we did before!

In general, we (management) don't want to mandate that every team track its actual hours, because we're trying very hard to let the teams define their own processes, based on what works best for them. I guess in a case where a team consistently came up short, I might - as the Agile Manager - get in there and coach them on techniques for improvement, one of which would certainly be some sort of tracking of where their time was spent.

Which leads right into another point Alexey raised, which was the examination of planned work versus unplanned work, so as to have historical data to use in future planning. That's something that, again, some of our teams have started coming to on their own. I know that our VP has recently hit on this as a metric he'd like to have more information on, but I tend to look at it as simply being one means to an end. In other words, if a team isn't succeeding, one possible reason may be that they're getting hit with too many impromptu requests for their time. In that case, they may get value out of tracking those requests and using that to allocate their time in each Iteration. Another team, though, might find that it's left more-or-less alone to complete its planned work each Iteration, and so the amount of unplanned work they face is trivial and not worth tracking. One size shouldn't be expected to fit all, as it were.

A recurring theme within this blog entry, I think, is that KPIs should be decided by the team, based on what they get value out of. That sort of thinking is what lead me to recuse myself from the cross-company working group that was tasked with defining common KPIs between our three joint venture organizations. It became clear to me that the real mission of that group was to create a set of "progress metrics", that could be used by our parent companies to see how things were going. There's absolutely nothing wrong with that, and I can totally see why they'd want just such a set of statistics. But that's not where my interest lies, as I'm looking for measurements that the feature teams themselves can use, rather than reporting metrics. And as I've mentioned several times here, those KPIs may differ from team to team. What I've failed at so far, except in a few isolated cases, is in encouraging each team to think about this and start experimenting. That's going to have to be one of my missions over the next few months.

Saturday, April 14, 2007

"Say Hello To Your Brother"

I actually enjoyed this week's 24, not the least for the great Jack Bauer line quoted above, delivered perfectly as he hung this season's villain by the neck until he was dead. The hand-to-hand battle leading up to that climax was also wonderful, especially in a season where suitcase nukes - nukes, for God's sake! - have been detonated!

It was also nice that so much was wrapped up with six or seven hours still to go. I didn't see that coming. But I had predicted that Audrey wasn't really dead, despite the official-looking report to the contrary that Jack was handed a few hours earlier.

Now I just hope the Chinese don't somehow force Jack to work against CTU to save Audrey... she just ain't worth it!

Friday, April 13, 2007

What People Bought Last Month

I wouldn't normally draw the blogosphere's attention to something like March's comic sales rankings. But since March featured both the death of an American icon (in Captain America # 25) and the debut of Buffy Season Eight (the comic series), I figured there might be some interest.

Now, for those who've never looked at this sort of thing before, you may be disappointed at the lack of actual sales figures. In other words, you won't see how many copies of Captain America # 25 were actually sold (or printed, for that matter), but what you'll see is that it was roughly twice as many as the second-best selling comic of the month, Mighty Avengers # 1. Everything's relative to the base title, which is always Batman (thus it's always shown as having an index value of 100.0), and really what you get from this report is how the various comics that came out last month compared to each other in terms of sales.

As far as speculating on the actual totals: I imagine Cap's death sold somewhere around 250,000 to 400,000 copies, since it was almost three times what Buffy # 1 sold, and we know they printed at least 100,000 copies of her debut, from articles about it. We're just not sure how much overprint there was for Buffy # 1, which might've put it as high as 150,000. At some point in the next few weeks, we may see estimates of the actual #s, which would provide some more educated guesses than I can provide. (Comic publishers don't like to release actual circulation figures. I'm not sure why.)

Lost Keeps Screwin' With Our Heads!

After ending a few weeks ago with that shot of Locke's dad, and then having Nikki's eyes open just before being buried alive, I should've known something unexpected was coming in the final moments of this week's Lost. And yet I was still shocked to see what was going on in Juliet's head as she set up her tent! Because I, like Jack, want to believe in her, I can't help but hope that she's running a double-cross on ol' Benry, or that her motives will turn out to be not as evil as they seem. But certainly it doesn't look very good right now.

And how about all the things we learned this week? No one in their right mind should be complaining lately that mysteries aren't being resolved! So many of the little weird moments from the first two seasons have now been explained, including what the deal was with Claire and her "dreams" of being attacked while sleeping.

I'm with Saiyid, though, when it comes to wanting some answers from Juliet. She did a good job of deflecting the pressure exerted by Sawyer and his unlikely ally, but hopefully this won't be the end of that line of questioning. Since Benry said, "See you in a week" to Juliet, her true allegiance should be revealed within a few episodes. The writers need to avoid dancing around this too long, as there are still tons of other mysteries (rather tha Others mysteries) that can unfold after that.

Another great episode in what's turning into a fantastic second half!